Old Letters of Assam

The Lost Art of


Old Letters

Over the years letters have changed or added to our way of looking at aspects of the human society. Although, only literate people exchanged letters, both personal and official letters were important to a wide variety of people. While official letters have been appreciated as valuable historical sources, personal texts also sometimes report unusual events like the coming of a war, life during an emergency, aftermath of a natural calamity e.t.c. This section contains a variety of such letters including correspondences between some eminent personalities. Their correspondences serve as a mirror into their real personalities, show their innermost thoughts and also act as windows into their association with important events of Assam. 

His Legendary Wit : Lakshminath Bezbaroa's Letter To Rai Bahadur K.K. Barooah

Shared Pain : Mahatma Gandhi's Letter To Mohammed Tayyebulla


Courtesy - Azad Tayyebulla & Nazneen Ahmed                                                                                              



Sarania Ashram


Dear Tayyebulla,

Some mutual friend had told me of your loss before your letter was given to me on my arrival here last night at about 10 p.m. Why grieve over the inevitable! And death is the common measure of all that lives. Imagine the torture that birth would be if there was no death! Loss therefore is a conventional word. Then true friendship is tested finally by the death of a loved one. And the words you quote from __ Quran puts the finishing __ on all I say. Let him take what he has given. Let us then praise the great name. My prayers are with you. You have done well in not coming to me.




The letter that Gandhi wrote was in response to this letter:


M. Tayyebulla


8 January 1946


My dear Bapuji,


Having lost my wife on 26 December 1945…and having none at all to look after the little children…I could not – my wish notwithstanding – manage to leave for even one single day to go down to Gauhati to meet my Bapuji…”Innalillahiwainnaillaihirajiun: Verily we come from Allah and to Him we all return” (Al-Koran). Oh, what a difference to me, Bapuji! I pray to Allah for peace, and I hope Bapuji will pray too.


With taslim and love,

Yours affectionately,



Addressed to Maulana Mohammed Tayyebulla, a prominent independence activist, Mahatma Gandhi wrote this condolence letter during his stay at the Kasturba Ashram, located atop the Saraniya Hills in January 1946. Tayyebulla was then serving as the President of Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) and had just lost his dear wife. Gandhi himself had lost his pillar of support, Kasturba in 1944 and was on a mission to spread the work of a trust named after her. As Tayyebulla's son Omar Luther King writes, "Mahatma Gandhi wrote this letter from an Ashram in January, 1946. My father, then the President of Assam Congress (1940-48) was a Security Prisoner from the 9th August 1942 to March 1945, and since his release from prison he was living in a sort of exile, lone and far, in Nowgong town in Assam, as our own Gauhati house was still under forced Military occupation on account of the War."

The Great Earthquake : Mrs. May Sweet To Her Sister Mrs. Godfrey

Shillong, 28th June,1897



I write to you as you know Shillong so well it will be easier to tell you about it all. It is wonderful that I am alive to write about it at all or anyone else. If it had happened in the night, a few hours later, hardly anyone would have been left alive, it was all so horribly sudden. At 5.30 on Saturday last, the 12th June was as usual, and 30 seconds afterwards was completely in ruins. I was riding on the Gauhati Road with Mr. Monaghan and suddenly we heard a queer rumbling sound and then trees swayed every way. Luckily by instinct we both turned sharply to the left and galloped up the hill as far as we could and find a place. We had crossed the bridge which would have gone down under us. I can't possibly describe the sensation as it was so totally different from anything I had ever experienced. I did not know whether I was on my horse or not or on the land or in the air. I could do nothing as the ground was all in a whirl. I know I looked once at Mr. M. and he was as pale as death. We neither of us thought of an earthquake, we thought it was a landslip on the Gauhati Road. Of course, when we got up to the mission we saw something of the terrible ruin, the poor missionaries, they were all on the road with their houses flat on the ground and old Miss Jones in a dying state. We stopped to make her as comfortable as possible and then rode on towards the station (she died a day or two afterward). We could not go by the ordinary way until we got to the ground as it was all burst open-and there were continued shocks the whole time. It was terrible riding home. Until we got to the bazaar I never realized what must have happened in the [hill] Station.


Everybody we passed looked dazed or almost wild, looking for others and their children - I felt dreadful too, though I knew Jack was out with the Ayah and a friend and his son. And then I've come up here to see my house, “Yogedan” was on the ground, literally there is not a stone left standing on another in the whole Station, one or two kutcha houses are half standing but unsafe. Poor Mr McCabe, we heard how he was buried when riding home but could not believe it. Mr Rossenrode and a little child was carried away when the lake burst. Oh, to see the desolation of the place now and the lakes, the whole of the water emptied out in a few seconds. To make matters worse and it turned cruel-we had a pelting wet night. I believe some people had an awful time-could get nothing to eat and got soaked at night. I was very lucky I heard that Government house had one of the tents up so I went up there and asked the Cottons to take me in. They were very kind so I got the kiddies and we stayed there 2 nights. Also Mrs. Arbuthnot's children and Nurse. Mrs Campbell, Mrs Horn, Mrs Hawthorne, Duncan, Nightingale and Burkes. We had an awful squash. Very wet and hardly anything to eat (though we did not feel inclined for it). We all sat up all night and rushed out for our lives at every shock. It was an awful experience and I never want to go through anything like it again. Luckily Jack kept well all through and I have been able to get milk for him. I don't know what we should have done without Mrs Horne. That first night and day she was splendid, fed us all and provided blankets and her house, being Kutcha,was not quite down. She could get something out otherwise we should have starved. Mr and Mrs Cotton quite lost their heads, poor things. I fancy they have never roughed it in their lives before- It is dreadful, we have had continuous shocks ever since and yesterday (Saturday at 5.30 we had another very bad one which would have been quite enough to bring down any building) - the natives predicted one a week after. We also had two very bad ones last night and hardly anyone has got undressed at night. I think a lot about the first. I did last night and had my dressing on ready to fly into the open- it is terrible living for over a week in a continual state of fear. Some peoples nerves have entirely gone-mine are bad enough and I am not surprised at anyone getting heart disease. Today we've had very few shocks and hope they are nearly over-but they are always worse at night. The only thing is, I and several others can't sleep and it is wonderful how one can keep up with so little. For a whole week I one night slept from 11.30 till 3.30 and early this morning for an hour. I was thin before but now am only skin and bone! However it is nearly over and I hope we all feel we might be only too thankful for our lives. The Kings and Mrs McCabe and Mrs Trotter are all with us in a little camp here. Up to last night Mrs McCabe, the Kiddies Ayah and I were in the Buggy shed which was leaning right over but it had not gone as it was built of wood, but is luxurious compared to others. A great many people are in the back sheds and have two or three sharing a mattress. Another awful thing was that the water supply ran out and there was a fear of Cholera breaking out. Dr Campbell quite thought one of my grass cutters had it. We send to the pologround for water. Potatoes too were scarce as everything was buried but they are being dug up by degree and they say that in a few weeks the road will be made for fresh ones to be brought up - of course everything was an awful price. The ponies are fed on 1 seer pack or turned out to grass. Pearl behaved beautifully all the time. The only way they kept their feet was that they galloped. I really am most comfortable now for have got bashas built and I suppose we'll have to live in them for months. Every day we dig a few more things out of the bungalow also it is very slow work. Still I have a good many things that are presentable after being cleaned. There were some very narrow escapes. The Cottons narrowly escaped being crushed. Mrs McCabe is still in my basha. She keeps up wonderfully- what an awful time for her. She wanted to go Mr. McCabes funeral but was not allowed - it would have been terrible. They could not get a coffin so he was buried only in a sheet and the grave was full of water. The men said they had never seen such a terrible funeral.


Mr. Gordon and Mr McClean (brother of Norman's ex-fiancee, Gauhati) in their escape were both having their bath and ran on the road absolutely naked, someone gave one a coat and the other some native cloth (there has just been another shock. I wonder when they will cease or if all our hair will be grey by then!). It was in an awful way as you can imagine as to whether Dibrugarh had gone or not. I could not hear for days and not a wire as all communication was destroyed. Thank goodness it is alright-tho' Willie says they had a severe earthquake. He could not stand alone but no damage was done in Dibru itself. It's plenty round about Cherra, it seems to have been worse than this. Whole sides of mountains have absolutely disappeared. Mr. Cotton has telegraphed Willie to come up. I'm afraid everything you had here has now gone completely and that lovely sideboard in Gauhati - and in getting to write to you he is afraid there is no chance of the piano being dug out whole. I don't know when they will talk of building things up again. Everyone will live for months at least in bashas. Till then I shall manage to keep cheerful somehow and I shall not mind anything else as long as Jack keeps well. Goodbye, I never thought that first night I should see any of you again. I think everyone expected the ground to open and swallow us all. Willie spent Sunday the 26th at Shillong going back to work on Monday walking 10 miles a day.



                                                                                                                                                          May Sweet.



Mrs. May Sweet was the wife of a British official named Williamson Sweet (referred to as Willie in the letter). In this letter to her sister Mrs. Sweet gives an eye witness account of  one of the most powerful earthquakes in recorded human history that took place on Saturday, June 12, 1897 in the northen ridge of the Shillong Plateau. With an estimated moment magnitude of 8.3 its aftershocks could be felt as far as Peshawar in the west. Although, the mortality rate was not that high (put at 1542) great damage was done to tea gardens in Assam and Cachar, and to the towns of Shillong, Guwahati, Goalpara and Dhubri. Damage extended into Kolkata where several buildings were badly damaged. Sir Henry Cotton (mentioned in the letter as Mr. Cotton) was then the Chief Commissioner of Assam.

Address Presented By The Public of Jorhat To The Chief Commisioner Of Assam

The Hon'ble Sir Archdale Earle, K.C.I.E., C.S.I., Chief Commissioner of Assam. 


May it please your Honour,


We the undersigned, on behalf of ourselves and that of the people of the Municipal town and the Sub-Division of Jorhat, beg respectfully to accord you a hearty welcome, on the occasion of your first visit to our town. 


Jorhat was the last capital of the Ahom Kings; it was also the sadar station of the district during the early British days. It has therefore given us very great satisfaction, that the once lost importance of this historic little town has been re-stored by the recent transfer of the Head Quarters for which it is eminently suitable, by reason of its central position, its easy means of communication and its general importance. 

Your fame as a statesman of great abilities has preceded your advent into our province; and the deliberations, at Shillong. for the improvement of communications, further point to your honour's careful attention to the needs of the people, and to a desire to associate them with the Government. 

We highly appreciate the spirit of the recent administrative changes, which, we hope, will conduce to our better interests, without depriving us of the blessings of a more developed form of Government.


Although the generous grant for the Jorhat waterworks has been most highly appreciated, we fear that it will not enable the Commissioners to extend the supply beyond the limits of the old Union. We are therefore compelled to ask your honour to make a further grant, so that pare drinking water may be supplied within the whole Municipal area.


Our infant Municipality being unable to meet the manifold requirements of a new and rising town, your kind solicitude regarding requirements for communications, encourages us to request your honour to raise the annual grant of   of Rs. 2000/- to one of Rs, 10000/-


We beg to ask your honour to depute an expert to enquire into the imperfect drainage of the town and also to grant an adequate fund for its improvement.


The improvement and extension of the embankments of the rivers and streams in our Sub-Division, especially the Bhogdoi, the Toklai and the Torajan are crying demands of the people, deserving your honour's special attention. 


We notice with great alarm, the appearance of Kalaazar in our district; but we are thankful for the assurance lately given, that all means will be adopted to stamp out the dread malady. 


The number of primary schools, both for boys and girls, is still inadequate and an increase in their number to meet the growing demands of the people is most earnestly prayed for. 


The Cotton college, being the only first class institution of its kind in the Province, we pray your honour to extend its sphere of usefulness by equipping it with the means of giving instructions in Law and the several branches of Arts and Sci-ence to prepare its pupils for all the University- examinations. Further, the High. Schools in the province which are the feeders of this institution also deserve, your honour's careful attention. One of the crying needs of these schools, is that the teachers and especially the Head Masters should be Bonafide Assamese except where the teaching of the Bengali language is necessary. In order to attract suitable Assamese graduates to this useful branch of the public service, we hope that it may be made a little more inviting from a financial point of view. 


While thanking the benign Government for granting this valley, a technical school, to be located in Jorhat, we pray that the institution may be made entirely independent of private enterprise; but that if it must be connected with some existing institution it may be attached to the workshop of the Jorhat State Railway.


The law class at Sibsagar which prepared candidates for the pleadership examination and which has been abolished would serve a very useful purpose, if located again at the Head quarters station of Jorhat and we would ask your honour to consider the possibility of it being reopened.


We beg to draw your honor's attention to the fact that the Assamese have not yet received their just and full share in the administration of the province. We hope your-honour may be pleased to afford them more facilities until all branches of the service have been filled, as far as possible, by the children of the soil.


The rules for the election to the Legislative Council will, we are confident, ensure the fair representation A of all classes of the people of Assam and we hope your honour will obtain for the Assamese at least one seat in the Imperial Council.


We believe that the rules for election to the Local Boards will soon be revised and we hope that the new rules will make ample provisions for securing votes of desiring persons and completely do away with the present system of taking votes of Gaonburas, which we fear, leaves much to be desired in efficiency.


We beg to give an assurance that your Honour may count upon our humble co-operation with Government in all matters affecting the welfare of the province and that our services will always be placed at your Honour's disposal. We further beg to take this oppurtunity of recording our deep sense of loyalty and unflinching devotion to Their Most Gracious Majesties the King Emperor and Queen Empress whose auspicious visit to this country has greatly enhanced the peace and contentment of the people of their vast Indian Empire.


In conclusion we beg to pray to the Almighty God to grant you a long life of health and prosperity to discharge the onerous duties of your high office and we hope that before you lay down the reins of administration, this province will have made rapid strides in the path of progress and improvement.


                                                                                                              We have the honour to subscribe, 

                                                                                              Your honour's most humble and dutiful servants. 



*The Chief Commisioner of Assam, Sir Archdale Earle, ICS was on his first visit to Jorhat soon after assuming office. He was received with great enthusiasm and a public address was made on behalf of the people of Jorhat on August 12th, 1912. Renowned bureaucrat Jishnu Barua writes,"The public address had to be scrutinised, checked and vetted by the Deputy Commisioner, Lt. Col. Alan Playfair, before it was sent to the Government for their approval ... the then Deputy Commisioner inserted a few words here and there which were quite significant ... On the perusal of records it is also quite clear that some of today's problems were also current in the early part of this century. The problems such as poor drainage, inadequate water supply, insufficient Government grants for the Jorhat Municipality simply refuse to disappear."

Peasants Vs Landlords - Rupram Sut's Letter to Ajit Kumar Sharma

প্রিয় অজিত,


মই ৮-৩০ বজাত গোলাঘাট পালোহি। বৰুৱা কোনোবা ঠাইলৈ মিটিং কৰিবলৈ গ’ল। এতিয়ালৈকে ঘূৰি অহা নাই। আহিয়েই ৰমা গগৈ, শিশু বৰা আদি কেবাজনো মুখ্য কর্মী লগ পাই আলোচনা কৰিছো। অতি সোনকালে প্রাদেশিক অফিচলৈ লিখা আৱশ্যক বুলি ভাবি এতিয়াই তোমালৈ এই চিঠি লিখিলো। ঘিলাধাৰী কি চিম্পল গ্রান্টৰ মাটি দখল কৰাৰ কাম আৰম্ভ কৰা হয় ২৬ মে তাৰিখৰ পৰা।  ৩০ তাৰিখলৈকে চৰকাৰৰ তৰফৰ পৰা কোনো বাধা জনোৱা নাছিল। বৰং এছ ডি চিয়ে হাবি কটা মানুহবোৰক মাটি চমজাই দিয়াৰ কামহে হাতত লৈছিল; কিন  ১ তাৰিখৰ পৰা কর্ত্তৃপক্ষৰ মনোভাব সলনি হ’ল আৰু দখলৰ কাম বন্ধ কৰিবলৈ চৰকাৰৰ তৰফৰ পৰা নিয়মমতে নটিচ দিলে। সেই নটিচ নামানি আগৰ কেইদিনৰ দৰেই হাবি কাটি থাকোতে ১ জুনৰ দিনা ভদ্র ফুকনকে আদি কৰি ৬ জুন সত্যাগ্রহীক গ্রেপ্তাৰ কৰি আনে। ২ তাৰিখে ক্ষেত্রলৈ পুলিচ যোৱা নাছিল।আজি পুনৰ পুলিচ গৈ ১০ জন সত্যাগ্রহীক গ্রেপ্তাৰ কৰি আনিছে। অর্থাত আজিলৈকে গ্রেপ্তাৰ হোৱা সত্যাগ্রহীৰ সংখ্যা ১৬ জন হৈছে। জামিনত আনিবলৈ বিচৰাটো জামিনত এৰি দিয়া নাই। আটাইকে হাজোতত ৰাখিছে। এতিয়ালৈকে প্রায় ৩০০ মানুহে সত্যাগ্রহী প্রতিজ্ঞা চহী কৰি দখলৰ কামত নামিছে। ইয়াৰ পৰাই বাতৰিটো উদ্ধাৰ কৰি তুমি নিজে গুৱাহাটীৰ আটাই কেখন কাগজতে প্রকাশ কৰাবা। তিৰোতা সত্যাগ্রহী ৯ গৰাকীয়েও আজিলৈকে সত্যাগ্রহী দলত যোগ দি হাবি কাটিছে গৈ। আজি সত্যাগ্রহী দলৰ নেত্রী আছিল শ্রীযুতা ভদ্রা শইকিয়ানী। তেওঁক কিন্তু পুলিছে গ্রেপ্তাৰ নকৰিলে। তিৰোতা এগৰাকীও গ্রেপ্তাৰ হোৱা নাই। আজিলৈ ইমানতে।





                                                                                                                            ৰুপৰাম সূত




*Renowned peasant leader and a member of the Socialist Party, Rupram Sut in this letter to Comrade Ajit Kumar Sharma gives a detailed account of what followed after a Satyagraha was launched by the poor peasant's of Ghiladhari (in Golaghat district) against the Assam government and the plantation owners of Ghiladhari and Mokrong Tea Estates. Led by  Socialists like Hem Barua, Hareshwar Goswami, Nibaron Bora, Rupram Sut and others, the Ghiladhari Socialist Satyagraha Andulan was the first peasant's movement in independent Assam.